Thursday, 25 June 2009

Basking in Sharks

It's not often that you get to realise a dream. After years of wanting, several false starts, cancelled trips and no shows, we've got our act together and with the help of a great contact who put us in touch with dedicated captain, wildlife guardian and seaman James Fairbairn, we've finally found basking sharks. Five days of searching the scottish islands were always going to be a long shot, but it's hard to sum up the dedication and resolve of James who has literally bent over backwards to help us on our task. Nerves were frayed on monday when we arrived at the location on a dull and misty, typically scottish day. Not good weather for plankton who prefer, like people I guess, to stay away from all that and sink down to the depths where it's half a degree warmer. The sharks followed the plankton on their never ending quest for food, and we were left sat peering into a never ending greyness, wiping drips of scotch mist from our noses, with only a gannet, a puffin and several jellyfish to keep us entertained.
Tuesday was even more frustrating when on arrival at the site on a windless calm sea, and glorious baking sunshine, we were greeted with not the slightest sign of fin or tail. We wracked our brains for an idea as to why the sharks had not shown. Perfect text book Basking Shark conditions, in the place recommended as being the most likely place for the sharks to show. Nothing. Nada. We couldn't work out why, except for the idea that maybe a seawitch had cursed us all at birth and we were destined never to set eyes on a basking shark. However, later in the day, we rounded a point and there they were, first one, then a pair, then gradually through the afternoon serveral rose from the depths to see us acheive our goal.

Giant mouths under those big round noses and coal black eyes, nothing can prepare you for the gentleness and apprent vulnerabilty of these giants. One always has a preconception of how a shark will behave when you come across it, and it's easy to look at those cavernous mouths and think that a shark might swallow you whole. There's plenty of room between those rakers. But when they approach you, they are very aware that you are there, sometimes gently veering to avoid us, sometimes closing down that gape and opening it again once passed. Despite the sheer size of them, they give off an air of distinct vulnerabilty and shyness.

Of all our group on board, the one to breath the heaviest sigh of relief was Nuno Sa, Wildlife Wonders of Europe photographer on his mission to cover Scotland's Basking Sharks. He certainly has a knack of being in the right plankton stream, in front of the right shark at the right time.
We all have some material to take home with us, but so far we are still looking for the shot to beat all other shots. Two more days to go and with the weather with us we have a good chance of cracking it. I will post an update at the weekend.

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